Dundee Says Good-Bye to Longtime Home

October 25, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

DUNDEE – One more memory.

After 85 years of playing prep football in the same location, Dundee will close the doors on its stadium tonight with plans to move into a new athletic complex next fall. Vikings head coach Kyle McElvany called tonight’s game against undefeated and state-ranked Hillsdale one more chance for the Vikings to make an ever-lasting memory.

“There is so much tradition and history here over the course of 85-plus years,” McElvany said. “It’s humbling. We hope to go out and make our alumni and community proud.”

Dundee hasn’t been to the playoffs in seven years, but a victory over Hillsdale would make certain the Vikings are in the 256-team field when the 11-player tournament pairings are announced Sunday. It would make for a memorable way to close out the history of the stadium, too.

Late last month, school officials announced that 1969 Dundee alum John D. Craig, retired chairman, president and CEO of EnerSys, has donated $1 million to be used exclusively toward the creation of the John D. Craig and Family Athletic Complex. The school will begin next week discussing the new complex at a public meeting. The plan is to build the new stadium in time for the 2020 season opener against Romulus Summit Academy North.

The Vikings have been playing football for decades in the current stadium, located behind what once was the high school in the village of fewer than 4,000 people. The new athletic complex will be built on the northwest side of the new high school.

“Our administration has already started to work on the project from a development standpoint, and I hope to get involved as well once our season is wrapped up,” McElvany said.

The new stadium will have a total visitor seating for approximately 2,500, new stadium lights and a new engineered natural grass athletic field. The facility will be capable of hosting football games, track meets and band festivals, and also feature a new scoreboard, new permanent concessions and restroom facilities.

The old stadium has been home to several great memories for Vikings fans over the years. One of them came earlier this season when Dundee’s defense made a goal-line stand during the final seconds to hold on for a 15-14 win over Ida. It was Dundee’s first football win over Ida in six years.

“To see the crowd and community on the field embracing those kids after that game was very special,” McElvany said.

Over the years, Dundee has won championships, completed undefeated seasons and hosted playoff games in the old stadium. In 2011, Dundee was still recovering from a tornado that caused millions of dollars in damage in the community when its football team brought some solace to the area with an 8-3 record and the only playoff win in school history.

“The greatest game ever for us in that stadium was the 2011 District playoff game versus Brooklyn Columbia Central,” said Dylan Williams, a 2012 Dundee graduate. “The field was all torn up from the tornado still. We took the lead in the fourth quarter with about a minute to go and held them.”

The most successful era for Dundee came during the 1960s when the Vikings won both Huron League and Southeastern Conference championships. Dundee didn’t lose for more than three years from 1963-1966 (finishing a combined 32-0-3), an accomplishment that remains the longest unbeaten streak in Monroe County Region history.

“The undying friendship, teamwork and dedication to a goal learned on this field will be with us all forever,” said Bob Busz, who played for those teams and graduated in 1966.

Ted Rath, a 2002 Dundee graduate and current assistant coach with the Los Angeles Rams, recalled several great memories from his time at Dundee. He was a student manager in 1994 and 1995 when his brother was playing quarterback, and then played for the Vikings himself. He met his wife, Robin, on that field while she was attending cheerleading practice.

“So many memories come flooding to mind when I think of my football experiences on that field,” Rath said. “I have been blessed to travel this great country and the world because of the sport of football. I have been to places like Wembley Stadium in London and Lambeau Field in Green Bay and many places in between. When I think about all the places that this sport has taken me, I realize that none are as sweet as that field in Dundee, Michigan.

“If I could stand on that field this week and say one thing it would simply be thank you,” Rath wrote in an e-mail. “Thank you for the memories, thank you for the victories, but also thank you for the defeats. The lessons learned on that field have shaped my life and driven me to become a better Christian, husband, father and person.”

While the new athletic complex is a welcome addition to the district and community, former players and coaches can’t help but recall the great times they made in the old stadium. Thoughts of fans rushing onto the field, wins over rival Ida and simply lining up for the kickoff at games at the stadium will keep the facility alive for Vikings fans for years to come.

Tyler Anson, a 2006 graduate, said he used to find his favorite spot at every home game to quietly reflect right before kickoff.

“My favorite memory from the stadium was always standing in the back of the end zone right before the national anthem,” Anson said. “There was something about being under the lights, looking down the field seeing the crowd, and hearing the anthem knowing you’re about to go to war with your brothers. It’s a feeling that will always give me chills.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Dundee’s football stadium has hosted games for 85 years. (Middle) Vikings fans stretch into the hillside next to the bleachers during a game. (Top team and middle football photos courtesy of Kyle McElvany; press box and field photos by Doug Donnelly.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)